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Insects: Evolution, biogeography and genetic diversity of insects (Tenebrionidae, Zygentoma)

Research areas: Entomology, evolutionary biology, biogeography, phylogeny, population genetics

Principal investigator: Prof. Dr. Reinhard Predel

Xerophilic tenebrionid beetles (Insecta, Coleoptera) and, to a lesser extent, silverfishes (Insecta, Zygentoma) belong to the most conspicuous biotic components in arid ecosystems worldwide. In the Atacama Desert, where free-living microbial decomposers are barely detectable, euryphagous tenebrionids are likely responsible for most of the nutrient cycling. However, extreme adaptive speciation with unique morphological features, as it is known from tenebrionids from e.g. the Namib, is not typical of tenebrionids from the Atacama. The reason for this phenomenon could be explained with a more recent colonization as it was hypothesized for plants.

On the other hand, numerous endemic species have been described and we speculate that pluvial phases which periodically fragmented suitable habitats may have caused diversifications not necessarily accompanied by adaptation to new ecological niches (=non-adaptive radiations). Thus, these animals are fascinating objects to study speciation events and population diversity. Faunistic and taxonomic studies of recent date on tenebrionids from this desert are based mainly on morphological characters.

Our plan is correlating the geographic distribution of Atacama-tenebrionids and silverfishes with genetic variation, and these data then again with ancient and current biotic and abiotic factors which will be obtained in the other projects within the CRC; primarily to reveal key conditions over time that resulted in today's diversity and patterns of endemism in the Atacama Desert. The thorough faunistic survey, supported by South American specialists, will be complemented by a fast differentiation of species and populations using low-cost peptide mass fingerprinting. Based on this information, phylogenetic relationships of genetically different beetles and silverfishes are first analyzed using multiple gene loci and sequences of multiple neuropeptides. Divergence times of well separated species will be estimated by molecular clock analyses (COI) and we expect hints regarding colonization which might be very different for tenebrionids and silverfishes and also for different species of tenebrionids. In this respect, the coastal Atacama is seen as a naturally occurring experimental zone.

Data obtained in other projects (climate, palaeoclimate, soil structure, vegetation, hyperspectral data, drainage lines) will considerably contribute to reconstruct and explain the current biodiversity. Selected species with a distribution across several distant locations will be analyzed by means of populations genetics to reveal the amount of their genetic differentiation and possible links with more recent pluvial periods. In a coordinated approach of subprojects B02, B03 and B04, endosymbionts with their shorter generation times (protists, bacteria) will be investigated from insect specimens in order to study potential co-evolution with their hosts.

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Prof. Dr. Tibor J. Dunai
Institute of Geology and Mineralogy | University of Cologne
Zülpicher Str. 49b | 50674 Cologne
+49-(0)221-470 2634 | tduanai@uni-koeln.de
Dr. Maximilian Müller
Institute of Geography | University of Cologne

Otto-Fischer-Str. 4 | 50674 Cologne
+49-(0)221-470 2241 | maximilian.mueller@uni-koeln.de
Deputy Speaker:
Prof. Dr. Martin Melles
Institute of Geology and Mineralogy | University of Cologne

Zülpicher Str. 49a | 50674 Cologne
+49-(0)221-470 2262 | mmelles@uni-koeln.de
© 2017 CRC1211 - Earth - Evolution at the Dry Limit

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